The U.S. trucking industry is a significant component of the American economy. With over $600 billion in annual revenue, the trucking industry moves 70% of America’s goods and employs more than 9 million Americans, of which, 5 million are highly skilled and credentialed commercial drivers. Great jobs exist in nearly every home town with entry level salaries ranging from $35,000 to $65,000 per year. There are 1.7 million commercial class A drivers and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has designated the profession having a “bright outlook” with annual job growth estimated over 19,000 per year through 2022.
Class A commercial drivers are the men and women behind the wheel of a “big rig” tractor trailer, often called a semi. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) defines a class A vehicle as any combination of vehicles which has a gross combination weight rating or gross combination weight of 26,001 pounds or more, inclusive of atowed unit(s) with a gross vehicle weight of more than 10,000 pounds, which require a valid State class A commercial license to operate. Depending upon the type of trailer and cargo a class A driver will haul, additional endorsements are often required in addition to the class A license. For example, if a class A driver will be hauling gasoline or oil, two license endorsements are required: hazardous material (H endorsement) and tanker (N endorsement). These endorsements require additional written knowledge tests that are specific to the safe operation of the truck, trailer and cargo. The FMCSA has classified nine different endorsements for class A commercial licenses.
Because of the variety of tractors being manufactured—for example, standard shifting or automatic shifting—the FMCSA also requires states to test student class A drivers on the tractor type they plan to drive. For example, class A driver without air brake experience receive would still be eligible to earn a class A license but would have an air brake restriction (L) designation.
These endorsements and restrictions may seem daunting to an aspiring class A commercial driver, but, they ultimately demonstrate the variety of available career opportunities. Some class A drivers help to build America by hauling concrete and steel to construction sites on flatbed trailers. Class A drivers help feed America by hauling food and produce in refrigerated box vans. Class A tanker drivers keep America moving by hauling gasoline from refineries to the gas pumps. Most class A drivers are bringing consumer goods to all of the retail and wholesale outlets across America.
A common misconception about class A commercial driving is the job requires the driver to be away from home for weeks at a time. This is true for over the road (OTR) jobs, which only represent only about 25% of the commercial driving opportunities. There are many other class A driving jobs that enable drivers to be home every night. These include intermodal driving jobs, where the driver reports to a rail yard or seaport, to deliver shipping containers to a local or regional warehouses.
Less-than-truckload (LTL) jobs, in which drivers pick up products from their local markets and deliver to consolidation warehouses, are primarily local too. Regional route drivers are sent out a couple of times per week to make deliveries within a broader geographic territory.
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